Students Are Bringing Capitalism to Latin America

Q&A with economist Gabriel Calzada Alvarez on trade barriers, higher education, and bringing free markets to the region.


President Trump's move to raise "barriers to people, to goods, to services," says Gabriel Calzada Alvarez, executive president of Guatemala's Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM), "is a danger not just for Central America [but] for the U.S. and for the world." The great irony, Calzada says, is that the U.S. has benefited immensely from free trade and immigration and "now wants to raise barriers."

Calzada sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest 2017 to talk about the impact of trade restrictions on Latin America, the changing role of higher education, and how students are bringing capitalism to the region. UFM, a private, secular university in Guatemala City, teaches free market economics and emphasizes the importance of intellectual debate on campus.

"Being uncomfortable because of the ideas of others is one of the experiences you have to have," says Calzada.

Edited by Paul Detrick. Shot by Justin Monticello and Meredith Bragg.

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This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Nick Gillespie: You run a university in Guatemala that was established in 1971, and it's rare there because it's a private university. What is the essential mission of higher education in the 21st century?

Gabriel Calzada: Well, I think in the 21st century, since you have basically all the content in your mobile device, universities have to move the focus from giving content–they have been doing this for many years–to creating experiences, interactions. We will see a shift from grades, from having focus in the grades, to have a focus in a portfolio of experiences that you can show. The universities that will survive are universities that will create safe space, but not safe space in the sense that we usually hear, that are places where you have the right not to be offended or bothered, but the safe places in the sense that you create a space where students can commit errors and can learn from those errors without the problems of these errors in real life.

Gillespie: In the United States, a lot of the discussion and discourse about higher education has to do with this encroachment of safe spaces, of political correctness, of speech codes, and the inability of faculty and students and outside speakers who come to enrich the environment are not allowed to speak freely. Is that also a problem in Guatemala, or does it take a different form there?

Calzada: Not at all. In Guatemala, students speak freely. We try to foster debate. We think that being uncomfortable because of the ideas of others is one of the experiences you have to have at the university.

Gillespie: You're opening a campus in Spain. How will that help fulfill the vision that you were talking about, about having a portfolio of experiences? What will be going on there?

Calzada: Going to a different culture is already a great experience, but fundamentally, going to a place where regulation has been going so far, so that the students can learn what are the results of big government. Then, of course, we want to offer the European public an opportunity to have a classical liberal, libertarian education that is currently very difficult in the European space. I think with the UFM experience, we can offer new programs that will be very original, very different from the type of programs that Spaniards and Europeans are used to.

Gillespie: Does it make sense to talk about a direction for Latin America, and is that direction going in the right way or the wrong way? I mean, there seem to be so many different things. There's your experiences in Guatemala. There are certain countries that are liberalizing. Then there are countries like Venezuela, which seems to really be in very-

Calzada: Collapsing.

Gillespie: … deep threat. Yeah. Then also in Brazil, as well as elsewhere, you see both good things and bad things happening at the same time. What is your sense? Is Latin America, which has gone through various phases of liberalization and then kind of retrenchment, how are things looking right now?

Calzada: I think right now things are looking pretty good. We are moving in the good direction. You can see this in Argentina. You can see this even in Ecuador. Things so far in the last few months seems to be better than they were a year ago, even if probably what we would have liked, this more radical change, didn't happen. I'm relatively optimistic because you see that in the civil society, more than in the governments, civil society is much more conscious of the need of creating associations to mobilize, in a way similar to what Tocqueville was talking about that was necessary to sustain our liberties. You see this in Ecuador. You see this in Chile. You see this in Argentina, in Bolivia. You see this everywhere. You see associations, organizations, many of them related to students.

You see movements in Guatemala, for example, last year. The new government decided to raise taxes. They were new in the government. They said, well, the solution, like always, is to raise taxes for the rich so we can solve the problems of the country, and suddenly you saw many students going into the streets, first, students, then professionals going to the streets, saying no, this cannot be the solution. Politicians always want to raise taxes. The solution is to look at the expenses of the government and make them more rational, reduce them, so balance the budget in that way.

Gillespie: What's the sense towards America under Donald Trump? He's been explicitly xenophobic towards Mexicans, for sure, but he seems to have a limited understanding or interest or engagement with most of Central America and South America, Latin America more generally. Is he seen as a good person, a bad person, a good president, a good friend, or is there a clear sense of how people think about him in Guatemala?

Calzada: To see a president that thinks that the U.S. has to raise their barriers, all kind of barriers, to people, to goods, to services, it's a danger not just for Central America; it's a danger for the U.S. and for the world. The country that grew for years and for centuries because of free trade and from receiving immigrants now wants to raise barriers to trade and to people.

Gillespie: Well, we will leave it there, and hopefully … I think we agree… hopefully, those barriers will only get to a couple inches high and-

Calzada: Hopefully.

Gillespie: … be easy to walk over. Thanks again.

Calzada: Thank you.

Gillespie: For Reason, I'm Nick Gillespie.

NEXT: Why the Lights Are Still Off in Puerto Rico

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  1. Yes the US benefited greatly from immigration, when there was no welfare state. In 1900 you got in and were on your own.

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    2. Re: IceTrey,

      Yes the US benefited greatly from immigration, when there was no welfare state.

      And the US is benefiting from immigration despite the Welfare state. Economic law is not suspended sorely because the government decides to feel generous. Neither do fact change to accommodate your bigotry.

      1. But the government is being generous with MY money.

  2. Capitalism is a dirty word now days, isn’t it?

    1. It is to communists, fascists and prohibitionists. Then again, “liberal” has been a dirty word to religious conservatives since Hitler and Herbert Hoover’s parties made huge gains in 1928. When the Liberal Party of America disparaged communism, welfare payments and wrote a plank to repeal prohibition in 1931, Republicans copied the way Germans pronounced the word.

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  4. Students Are Bringing Capitalism to Latin America

    Say, whatever happened to the lab in Chile run by Pinochet and our CIA to test Milton Friedman’s “all capitalism all the time”? It was a paradise for while.

    Did they tire of all the winning? Or did the capitalists put back the crony in it? Their competitiveness that was #1 among American nations is, like behind, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Estonia

    1. Sorry, you have the wrong address. Vdare is half a block over that way.

      1. TFW when you are unable to address the actual point of the post you are responding to.

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    2. Since when is kidnapping and torturing people to death capitalism?

      1. Since the first person was kidnapped and tortured. Duh.

    3. Did it go Venezuela?

      Viva la revolution de comer perros!

      1. THAT revolution is still alive and well in Red China and North Korea.

    4. Paint Thinner|10.21.17 @ 6:10PM|#
      “Say, whatever happened to the lab in Chile run by Pinochet and our CIA to test Milton Friedman’s “all capitalism all the time”? It was a paradise for while.”

      Worked pretty damn well, asshole.

  5. “They said, well, the solution, like always, is to raise taxes for the rich so we can solve the problems of the country, and suddenly you saw many students going into the streets… saying no, this cannot be the solution.”

    Is this pig flying, or man? I can’t tell the difference anymore.

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  7. Students Are Bringing Capitalism to Latin America

    There’s an evergreen headline. People are always bringing capitalism to Latin America, where it is promptly turned into cronyism.

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  9. I’m glad to see students bringing capitalism and free markets to Latin America. Caldaza should concentrate on the protectionism, mercantilism, and lack of free markets in Latin America first IMHO. Because markets there are far less free than in the US. Trump IS trying to break down the barriers Latin American politicians have erected in their own countries. He knows the US would export a lot more if they did. This will make things far better for Latin American countries regardless of what Trump does.

    While Trump has rejected TPP (a lost opportunity, but not creation of a new barrier), cracked down on immigration violations, wants to ban immigration from a few countries without good info on the people there (e..g., if they’re Islamic militants), and wants to build a wall, Caldaza overstates Trump’s desire to build barriers to movement of goods, people and services. It’s more of a negotiating tactic and rhetoric to satisfy those who incorrectly believe protectionism is a good thing IMHO (because they don’t recognize the US economic malaise is due to growth of government, not because of foreign immigration or trade).

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